Fox’s Election Lies Being Exposed By Lawsuit

Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox,
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Photo: YouTube

In the days following the 2020 election, Rupert Murdoch, the chair of Fox Corp and executive chairman of News Corp, was worried about one of his most lucrative businesses. Fox News had been the first major network to call Arizona for Joe Biden on Election Night, a brutal blow to Donald Trump’s reëlection hopes, and Fox viewers weren’t happy. “@FoxNews daytime ratings have completely collapsed,” Trump tweeted. “Very sad to watch this happen, but they forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose.”

Two days after the Arizona call, the anchor Bret Baier e-mailed Fox News’ president, Jay Wallace, to suggest retracting it. “It’s hurting us,” he wrote, proposing that the network put the state “back in his column,” referring to Trump. A few days after the election was called for Biden, Baier texted Wallace and his fellow-anchor Martha MacCallum that he was “trying to focus on the memes not the Fox hating.” MacCallum was similarly glum. “I can’t look at any of it anymore,” she wrote. “I’m watching the Queens Gambit, good escape.”

Murdoch was sending unhappy messages to the network’s C.E.O., Suzanne Scott. “Getting creamed by CNN!” he wrote to her the day after Biden was declared the winner. “Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it.” That same day, Tucker Carlson texted the Fox News producer Gavin Hadden: “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire.” Hadden was soothing. “Hopefully just a moment in time,” he wrote. “We will just ride on your shoulders.” Carlson was still jittery. “With Trump behind it,” he wrote, “an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”

During the past few weeks, such texts and e-mails from Fox News hosts have been made public in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox, which claims that the network knowingly aired false allegations that the election was stolen from Trump, at least in part, with the help of Dominion’s products. “I hate him passionately,” Carlson said of Trump in one text message. According to Laura Ingraham, another of the network’s prime-time hosts, Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell, who peddled election lies on the network, was “a bit nuts.”

Fox News’ lawyers have argued that Dominion has taken the communications out of context and “has not even identified any defamatory statement of fact . . . attributable to Fox News.” Much of the non-Fox News media, meanwhile, has crowed at tangible evidence of the network’s duplicitous coverage and speculated about whether any of it will force Fox News to reform. “The documents lay bare that the channel’s business model is not based on informing its audience, but rather on feeding them content—even dangerous conspiracy theories—that keeps viewers happy and watching,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote. Margaret Sullivan, in a column for the Guardian, asked if a Fox News loss in the lawsuit might “make coverage more responsible.”

But, despite the bad headlines, Fox News has little incentive to change its ways. For one thing, the network’s loyal audience is likely to remain glued to their screens, especially as a contested G.O.P. Presidential primary plays out on-air over the next two years.

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